What is metacognition? And what is oracy?
Metacognition (sometimes referred to as metacognition and self-regulated learning) is an area of education which has had a lot of coverage over recent years. Taken together, these terms relate to the premise that learners should take responsibility for their own learning, and are able to play an active role in this process (Zimmerman, 2001). The evidence base for the positive impacts of implementing metacognitive techniques and learning in the classroom is strong, with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) indicating that using metacognitive strategies are low cost but high impact, with disadvantaged children less likely to deploy metacognition techniques without being explicitly taught them.
Metacognition, while not a panacea, does have many wonderful benefits for all learners, but is often misunderstood. In short, it’s ‘thinking about thinking’ – supporting students to reflect on their learning and therefore self-regulate it. The term may refer to discreet strategies such as ‘consider both sides of an issue’, or to more general approaches to learning, for example how to set goals, monitor your own progress and manage your own motivation. The current evidence (highlighted by the EEF and others) suggests that metacognitive skills make a strong contribution to students’ academic progress, with some approaches seeing gains of as much as 9 months’ progress.
Oracy is being able to express yourself effectively through spoken language. This might be in a classroom setting, where children and young people need to be able to communicate with peers or teachers to help develop and cement their knowledge, or it could be giving an interview for a job or speaking at a conference. In schools, oracy or speaking and listening, is all about supporting learners to learn to and through talk. By encouraging talk in the classroom you are supporting learners to deepen their subject knowledge, encouraging them to listen actively and helping them to develop a greater understanding of a range of viewpoints – leading to them becoming confident communicators, empowered citizens and critical thinkers.
Metacognitive links to oracy
The wide range of oracy tools and techniques schools have at their disposal (many of which we at the ESU explicitly develop and support through our programmes) all – and often vice versa (with the EEF recognising that there are many similarities between metacognitive and oral language interventions). At all levels oracy encourages children and young people to think about their learning – to review the knowledge or evidence they have gained to make informed decisions about its validity, to summarise, rework and present this information to others. This further encourages learners to really think about their own learning, developing agency over their knowledge acquisition. In the classroom oracy techniques (such as those developed through Oracy in Action) support children to self-regulate, encouraging them to filter information to select the most pertinent points to share, as well as giving children the scaffolding and confidence to be able to make meaningful oral contributions in the classroom.
Just like with oracy, metacognitive strategies can, and should be explicitly taught, and there is evidence to suggest that disadvantaged pupils are less likely to use metacognition or oracy strategies without explicit instruction and scaffolding. Which is why it’s so important to not only help to dispel myths about what metacognition and oracy are, but to support teaching professionals to feel confident to effectively teach these strategies in their classrooms.
Metacognition links to debate
Debate – formal or informal – is one element of oracy with particular links to metacognition. At the ESU, debate skills and techniques are at the heart of all we do, as we believe that debating skills transcend the curriculum and provide all learners, at any age, with robust skills to support their learning across the curriculum, as well as helping them to develop cultural capital, critical thinking and metacognition skills.
Debating helps students to develop metacognitive strategies to aid the development of analytical or persuasive speech or writing. First, the activity itself requires the student to engage in continual reflection on the strength of their argument, and their chosen method of presentation. Students are aware that their arguments will be critiqued and are therefore motivated to develop and practice metacognitive strategies that allow them to hone their speeches. These strategies can be explicitly taught, and students often supplement taught instruction with their own metacognitive practices.
Through debate competitions students can further develop their metacognitive abilities, as each round provides a scaffolded opportunity to reflect on prior learning and attainment, improve and refine not only their performance in the debate, but also their research and preparation.
Find out more and embed metacognition into your oracy programme
So how might a school develop their metacognition programme linked to oracy? The good news is that you are likely already doing many things that can support both oracy and metacognition. If you are providing opportunities for learners to discuss a topic, theme or approach in the classroom; if you have opportunities for students to present their thoughts or findings in class, assemblies or other presentation opportunities; or if you are encouraging all students to make their voice heard and share their thoughts in class you are already well on the way!